Album Review: "First Impressions" ~ Jim Matheos (1993)

Posted by prla1983 on March 27, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

I've been avidly listening to Fates Warning for the past couple of years and what got me hooked into that progressive metal band - the true brand of it, if I may add - was Jim Matheos' grungy guitar riffs, which somehow sound truly unique. I find that trait to be especially evident in the first iteration of the band, when John Arch was the one holding the mike and screaming his guts into it. In short, much of what attracted me to Fates Warning in the first place, I have Jim Matheos to thank for.

When a friend of mine got hold of "First Impressions", I was a bit taken by surprise. Despite enjoying Matheos' licks quite a lot, and knowing his collaborations with John Arch and Mike Portnoy (through O.S.I.), I had no idea he also had solo albums. Well, let's just give it a try, I decided.

I'm in awe. After recovering from the shock of learning that this album goes back all the way to 1993, I had to recover from another shock: there's no heaviness, no distortion, no great riffing. This is a completely mellow, acoustic and classic(al) album back to back. And, oh the humanity, it's so damn good.

Somehow this reminded me of "Hero" (aka "Ying Xiong"), the acclaimed 2002 Chinese stylish movie and the songs inside can at times be oddly beautiful nearly moving you to tears. The only complain is that sometimes it is so much into itself, blends so easily that it falls a little too much into the background.

But no matter. This is a truly brilliant album and proof that Jim Matheos is one of the most gifted - and underrated, why not say it - guitar players of our time. When an artist goes completely out of his element and still attains something like this, there's something very special to him. Matheos is one such case.

Film Review: "Wall Street" (1987)

Posted by prla1983 on March 26, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

It seems to me there's a certain type of photographic quality in most of the 80s movies that sets them apart from any other era. I'm not arguing it's either better or worse than others, it just feels different and very distinctive. In this light, "Wall Street" reminded me vividly of "No Way Out" for instance - which happens to be from 1987 as well - and several De Palma films. Don't ask me why. It just does.

Useless considerations apart, "Wall Street", directed by always controversial Oliver Stone, pictures the almighty frenzy in corridors of high finance where no one has a chance to fade away. They always burn out, in a snap of fingers. And bigger they are, harder they fall, right?

The story in itself is nothing new or previously unseen, featuring a bright young "sport", Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen) who happens to have a lot of potential but is not exactly happy with his stock broker life. He wants more, and hotshot Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is another broker who embodies everything he wants to become - powerful, vicious, influential and a sure winner. By sheer force of will and unprecedented persistence, Bud sneaks into Gekko's office and tries to prove his value to him. From here on the bulk of the movie shows us the average - but rather well executed in this particular instance - story of the young protegé who rises to the top at breakneck speed until, unexpectedly, something shatters his bond to the master. Something that hits home and makes Bud question his beliefs. What this is and how it plays out is the very heart of the movie, so I'll let that for you to find out if you didn't see it yet.

All the acting is quite superb, especially the relationship between Gekko and Fox. Martin Sheen - who is Charlie Sheen's father both in real life and on the screen - is particularly compelling as a man who believes in hard work, not selling out and not letting others - and yourself - down. He reminds me of Donald Sutherland simply because he also seems to have that ability to outshine everyone whenever he's on screen a couple of minutes at a time.

If you like high finance intrigue, big guys pulling the strings on each other, twists and turns, then "Wall Street" is probably essential. And it will probably give you an excuse to read Sun Tzu's "The Art of War".

Book Review: iCon Steve Jobs : The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business (2005)

Posted by prla1983 on March 22, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

I just finished Steve Jobs' latest unauthorized biography aptly titled "iCon" and there's three simple words stuck in my mind: "millions of dollars". Pretty much everything in this book is measured in millions of dollars. That's an awful lot of dollars and it goes around in Silicon Valley the same way you and I buy chewing gum.

Most of the time, when I read a biography I tend to get enamored with the subject almost unconditionally and I think that's true to most people. The writer of a biography usually admires whoever he's portraying and that sort of feeling almost always gets impressed in the reader too. In this particular case though, "iCon" instils mixed feelings. You can't be indifferent to a man who changed three different major industries - computers, film animation and music - forever, yet so many of his decisions along the years are questionable and debatable, to be candid about it. Others make you shudder.

Jeffrey Young and Bill Simon wrote a fantastic book which not only goes a long way to describe and attempt to explain Jobs' persona, it also gives invaluable insight into the foundry of Apple, NeXT and Pixar Animation Studios as well as inside views on major influence wars not only around Silicon Valley but also in Hollywood - mostly about Disney. What's really interesting though is that "iCon" doesn't shy away from pointing its finger to the bad guys and putting them out in the open, even when often that means Jobs' himself doesn't look too good in the picture. We learn that in the highest end of technology there are no good guys. There are only bad guys and not-that-bad guys.

Perhaps except for one person: John Lassetter, arguably the single most responsible person for precisely "the second act". He's the guy behind every great Pixar animation movie - think Toy Story, A Bug's Life or Nemo for instance - and basically who's been pulling the strings the whole time, outpouring talent and genius while infecting others with it along the way. In "iCon" every reference to Lassetter is filled with appreciation and rightly so.

Steve Jobs is one of the most important people in the world we live in, someone who has spent his life basically changing the way we live, work and entertain ourselves - to something he believes is the best he can offer. As with everyone else, he's far from perfect but I believe everyone should take the good things out of everyone else and learn valuable lessons from that. Jobs has been mean and unfair to many people oftentimes in the past, but that's doesn't evaporate all the incredibly great things he's achieved. Like him or not.